Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Polluters and Pinkwashers

I'm going to stir up a little controvery here and I'd love to hear your comments, even if you disagree. Post them below!
I find it amusing that so many companies are "donating" to "Breast Cancer." As if breast cancer was an institution in and of itself like manufacturers and sellers of pink ribbons everywhere would have you believe. First of all, how much are these companies donating? When you buy something with a pink ribbon, how much is going to a non-profit? 10%? 1%? And then, once the money filters through the non-profit, how much of your money is actually going to help a person with cancer? How much is going to drug companies? How much are paying the big salaries of the people who run the major non-profits? These "pinkwashers" add pink ribbons and such to products to make them look like they're a caring company. When, in fact, all the pinkwashing does is help them increase their profits.
Financials aside, there's another reason that these companies don't live up to the hype. Let's take a look at one example that showed up in my mailbox.

Amidst the slue of junk mail I received one day, an ad popped out at me: "Buy a Serta matress to support Breast Cancer!" Seemed nice enough. But let's think about this a minute....buy a mattress that's likely to contain chemicals like fire-retardant boric acid (that is commonly laced with carcinogenic arsenic), formaldehyde glue (a known carcinogen), bleached cotton that emits dioxin during manufacture, and carcinogenic tolulene finishing. All of these chemicals that can disrupt hormone function and lead to a higher risk of breast cancer....to support breast cancer!? Serta would do a lot more to stop breast cancer if they would just not add the chemicals to the matresses! But they know that adding a pink ribbon to the product makes it desireable to the unknowing public--and a lot cheaper than finding safer alternatives!

Then I remembered an earlier ad that I had seen from Ford Motor Company. They had a two-page spread in one of the "health" magazines about how they were raising awareness for breast cancer. They even had a whole line of clothing and accessories in pink that "supported breast cancer." Let's think about this one for a minute... According to the Breast Cancer Fund, a non-profit organization whose mission is to eliminate the environmental causes for breast cancer, one of the largest environmental causes of breast cancer is tailpipe emissions. Exposure to certain pollutants, especially in a young girls life, can increase cancer risk later in life. So, if Ford really wanted to help stop breast cancer it would enforce stricter emissions standards on their vehicles. But, it's a lot easier and more profitable to sell a line of cute scarfs and t-shirts that make them look philanthropic.
Estee Lauder was one of the first companies to distribute pink ribbons, and now Avon has jumped on the bandwagon with a special lip balms and charm bracelets to help their "Cancer Crusade." Both companies have long refused to sign the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and continues to use hormone disrupting parabens and phlalates as well as formaldehyde donors like diazolidnyl urea. It's a vicious cycle that supports itself....buy the products that cause cancer, and then buy the products to increase cancer awareness.

From 2005 to 2006, the Campbell Soup company doubled their sales of Tomato and Chicken Noodle soup to the largest grocery chain, Kroger. How did they do this? They branded the soup with pink ribbons and donated $3.5 cents per can to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. It only took them $250,000 in dontations to make an extra $3.5 million in sales. Now, there's nothing wrong with a company making profits--that's what they're obligated to their shareholders to do. However, once again, they're not really working to cure cancer. Soup cans contain a plastic coating called BPA. BPA is a known hormone disruptor, acting like estrogen in the body. The more a woman is exposed to estrogen, especially synthetic estrogens, the greater her cancer risk. But instead of spending money on finding a safer alternative for their can, it's easier to make a pink label donate to a non-profit and hand off to them the responsibility to find a cure.

And finally...A common sight in my house as a youth was a little basket full of pink yogurt tops. The pink inside of the little foil lid said that Yoplait would donate fifteen cents to the Susan G. Komen foundation. We did our duty, ate our yogurts, and sent in our tops. But what we didn't know was that yoplait uses yogurt from cows that are treated with rbST, recombinant bovine growth hormone. Our yogurts were laced with synthetic estrogens that ran their course through our bodies, increasing OUR risk for breast cancer. If yoplait really cared about cancer, they'd use organic milk, or at least rbST-free milk (not to mention all the refined sugar, artificial flavors, and sweeteners.) But it's easier and more marketable to have novel lids that people can interact with and feel like they're making a difference.

I don't want to say that we shouldn't donate to breast cancer foundations. It's a great and kind thing to do so. Many of them do a great job at funding reasearch and getting money to small cancer clinics. But I just wonder---if we didn't have all of these companies putting chemicals into our air, water, land, food and bodies, would we need all the breast cancer funding? Would we need the research, the studies, the drugs? The moral of the story is, the best thing to do is to give directly to the foundation or volunteer your time to the organization, or even a cancer patient in your life.

One organization I admire is the Breast Cancer Fund. Visit their website at www.breastcancerfund.org.

For more info on matress chemicals: http://www.thegreenguide.com/doc/ask/mattress

For more info on cancer hypocrisy: http://www.thinkbeforeyoupink.org/

PBDE info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PBDE

For more info on chemicals in lotions to avoid: http://www.bubbleandbee.com/Chemical%20Database.html

Breast Cancer Fund: http://www.breastcancerfund.org/site/pp.asp?c=kwKXLdPaE&b=43969

BPA in cans and other products:


Unknown said...

Stephanie, bubbleandbee.com is down! Just thought I'd let you know in case you weren't aware yet.

Stephanie Greenwood said...

Thanks Laura. Our hosting company has had several outages. It has been extremely frustrating! Thanks for checking in; I apologize for any inconvenience.


Anonymous said...

Stephanie, I agree with you 100%! Also, think about it...how many scientists, big pharma companies, etc. will lose big money (and their jobs)if cancer is cured?

Unknown said...

It's amazing how a bunch of corporations have created a marketing opportunity out of breast cancer. It's even stranger when you are aware that the number one health concern for women is heart disease.

Fig+Sage said...

Amen sister! I've just been contemplating how to articulate these thoughts and wrap my head around this hypocrisy...and you did just that :) I don't think most have stopped to think about what is causing the cancer in the first place.

www.thinkbeforeyoupink.org was the site that first opened my eyes to this nonsense. Great informative post Stephanie!

Fig+Sage said...

P.S. I had NO idea soup cans were lined with plastic containing BPA! Are we talking ALL soup cans? This is disturbing.

Anonymous said...

Right on! We need to have a public conversation in this country about PREVENTING breast cancer. Instead, we are told to "hope for the cure" and buy products with pink ribbons "for the cause." Disturbingly, many pink-ribbon-waving companies sell products containing carcinogenic chemicals! Estee Lauder, Revlon and Avon among them. I have a chapter about pinkwashing in my new book, "Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry." I'd be happy to send you a review copy of my book if you'd like one. Best,
Stacy Malkan

Stephanie Greenwood said...

Thanks everyone for your great comments.

Stacy--I'd love a copy of your book! I'm sure we're on the same figurative page about all this!

S--Pretty much all soup cans have BPA--even the organic soups. There was a Dateline study that looked at two families--one that ate organic and one that ate whatever. The organic family still had a lot of BPA in their bloodstream because they were eating organic canned soups. Crazy!

Andrew--It is crazy--the corporations latch on to Breast Cancer because it has such a high emotional impact. Heart Disease isn't half as scary to the general women public as Breast Cancer.

Thanks again everyone!

KG said...

Excellent findings... something to think about. You've done your research, as always!

Anonymous said...

I've long been opposed to this insane pink ribbon waving that only seems to increase with time. Did you know that the company that manufactures the most popular breast cancer treatment drug is also a major European chemical manufacturer? Their toxic chemicals contain known carcinogens. What a business model!

Any kind of cancer is awful - but knowing we could prevent many forms of it makes me feel ill.

Thanks for the great info!

Karen Hauley said...

I'm soooo glad I scrolled down to this post because I'm a breast cancer survivor and I hate pink! I absolutely know there are things we can do to prevent many cases of breast cancer and I've voiced my thoughts on the very things you've articulated in this post. Unfortunatly, I find that most people don't want to hear this news becasue this knowledge requires personal change and too many people don't want to change their comfortable habits. Props to you for helping to educate people - I would much rather spend my time and money on prevention than "cure" ~ especially when there is much evidence that prevention may be the cure. Bald really isn't beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I have been thinking about that very same thing while out on every shopping trip! I hate all of this propaganda they are feeding people.
One of the things that bothers me the most about it as well, is the waste that I'm sure they are producing just from making all of these pins, cup holders, plastic hats, etc. Not to mention all of of the packaging waste as well! It makes me sick that so many people don't even think about their actions and more sick that until two years ago, I was one of them. It is hard to make some of those changes but we need to ask ourselves what is really more important. Preventing disease or buying pins that say we want to help find a cure, to curb our own guilt and fear of what the consequences will be.

Question for you...are there also harmful chemicals in the carton boxes that the organic soup comes in? Also, how do you find out what manufacturers use in their packaging and processing. Is there a site online or something? I'd like to check it out if there is.

Crystal said...

Thank You Stephanie, I am thrilled to have the information that you put out. I have made big changes in my home, and hopefully my little girl will have much less chance of getting these things. It makes me very sad that the stores are filled with products that are bad for us. Is there anything more we can do to raise awareness for "Prevention".

Angela said...

This is an old post,but a great one! I wish more people knew about pinkwashing.

Colorful Canary said...

I couldn't agree more...Pink-washing, Green-washing, eco-washing, organic-washing...It's everywhere. Rather than put the money into products people want they put their dollars in to marketing so you think you want what they have. Read ingredients, research products and always check it out for yourself.

Green Lifestyle Consulting said...

Thank you for pulling this information together AND including an organization that is worth supporting. I have shared this with my facebook and stumble communities.